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First timers guide to GABF

By September 23, 2011Beer Travel, Events, Welcome

The 30th annual Great American Beer Festival is quickly approaching, September 29th—October 1st at the Colorado Convention Center in Downtown Denver. If you haven’t got a ticket yet, I am sorry to say you might be S.O.L. as this years event sold out the first week tickets went on sale, and for good reason, this is one of the most popular beer festivals of the year. Just to give you some numbers: 466 U.S. breweries will be pouring 2,375 beers in the festival hall, the biggest selection of American beers ever served, that’s more than 36,000 gallons of beer! With 49,000 attendees expected to attend, including yours truly, they are definitely going to need all that beer [facts source: GABF website]


Beerfests with Friends Featuring: (top left) Carlos, Leslie, Spencer, Adam, Kim and Paul (bottom left) Lizzie

TRP Beer Festival History

This will be our first time going to GABF, although we’ve been to many beer festivals before, including: Great Taste of the Midwest, Great Nebraska Beer Fest, the Omaha Beer Fest, St. Paul Summer Beer Fest and the Omaha Homegrown Homebrew Festival. Our first beer fest was the KC Beer Fest and one of our favorites is the Parkville Microfest, which we’ve been to twice. So while it’s not our first rodeo I did reach out to some of our beer friends who are multi-year veterans to the GABF event to ask for some first-timers advice!

Beer Fest Advice Panel

Chris Spradley, Angela Arp, Stephen Johnson

Introducing: Chris Spradley, Angela Arp, Stephen Johnson

Chris Spradley
Also known as @BeachBumChris on Twitter is a Texas BeachBum living in LA. He is a diehard Texas Longhorn, Former sportscaster, big food & craft beer geek and currently the Sales Manager @SoCalBeerCo, Craft Beer Consultant & future Cicerone! He wrote a post as well with some very helpful tips for the festival.

Angela Arp
Angela Arp is the Social Media and Special Events Coordinator for Nebraska Brewing Company and the Great Nebraska Beer festival, as well as the loving wife of Nebraska Brewing Company brewmaster, Tyson Arp. She has been going to GABF for quite a few years now; about ½ of them with the brewery, so she has done, seen and experienced a lot of what happens to people when they don’t thoroughly plan for the Wonder that is GABF. She is hoping that at least one of her tips will help make the trip to GABF more fun (and with all her great advice I am certain it will!). Follow her on Twitter @GreatNEBeerFest and @NEBrewingCo

Stephen Johnson
Also known as @darthweef on Twitter, Stephen stars in the New Brew Thursday video podcast. He is working towards becoming a Certified Cicerone, is currently a Certified Beer Server and full-time beer geek.

Travel Advice – Angela

First you must plan for the travel; how are you getting there? If you’re flying, be sure to bring some huge zip lock bags and bubble wrap so you can take home some of that Amazing Colorado brewed beer in your checked luggage. If you’re lucky and you live close enough to drive; you’ve got it made! Just leave room in the car for a case or two!

If you are flying in and out of Denver, be aware that the airport is nowhere near downtown and it’s a $60 cab ride if you go solo. Also, the airport will be packed from roughly 10am-2pm so fly out later if you can. That way you can sleep in from Saturday night’s fun and not have to deal with ridiculous lines. —@BeachBumChris

Angela says: “Altitude Hurts!”

Denver is 5,183 above sea level and if you’re a ‘Low-Lander’ like me, you WILL feel the effects of alcohol much faster than normal and you will get the infamous ‘Altitude Headache’ the next morning. You must — Hydrate — HydrateHydrate!

Getting to the Convention Center

Common sense should be screaming don’t drive to the festival. Denver has plenty of transit options to get you around. Light rail train stops right in front of the Colorado Convention Center and the bus does too! We are going to get a 10 stop pass for the whole weekend, you might want to as well! Check out more Info on RTD Passes here.

Prepping for the Party – Angela

Yes, this is serious business, be prepared! At least a few hours before, be sure to check out the Breweries listing and the festival map so you know where to go when you get there.

Don’t ‘Prime’ before the fest, there will be PLENTY of beer for you to sample!

More great tips from Angela

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  • Pre-fest avoid all aromatics; smoking, hot/spicy food, gum & strong colognes or perfumes. Their aggressiveness will affect your ability to truly appreciate the beers.
  • Bring some extra cash for food, nonalcoholic beverages & the random emergency.
    Wear comfortable shoes!
  • If weather is permitting or you can handle it, skip the coat! The last thing you want is to carry your coat around the fest all night. If you need a coat to make the walk to one of the local tap houses afterwards, plan on heading back to the hotel after the fest to pick one up!

Eat. Before, During & After!

Preztel Necklaces for Beerfest

"Make yourself a pretzel necklace; it helps refresh the palate and keeps your stomach down to a low roar." -Angela; Also, be creative! But you might want to think twice about using cheesy poofs.

Beerfest Costumes

Costumes or Funny Hats? Sure, why not!

Get in line early, the line outside will be long, but the crowd will be jolly and entertaining.
Don’t miss it!

Etiquette During the fest

We’re all here to have fun, so do your best not to ruin it for anyone. There will be a LOT of beer there! No… really, A LOT! More than you can ever contemplate tasting in a few short hours. If you don’t go into the event with some sort of tasting strategy, you’ll be quickly overwhelmed by the selection.

Examples of some strategies are: the must ‘try beers’, breweries you’ve never heard of before, tables with brewery reps pouring (identifiable by the folks wearing the lanyards), beers with dog names, etc.

For the actual GABF, have a plan… know where you want to go and what you want to try. I always go to the breweries I can’t get in CA. Don’t waste your time on something you can get where you live unless it’s a special GABF beer. —@BeachBumChris

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  • Come up with some plan and try to stick to it. If you have a large group, you could each pick your favorite style and then when someone fines a great beer, then everyone can deviate from their plan.
  • If you have a question for the brewery rep, be sure to keep it short and step to the side so the people behind you can also get a beer.

  • Have your friends dance at the Silent Disco and video tape it. The heckling is not to be missed!
  • If you come with a large group, be sure to plan to meet up somewhere if/when you get separated. The arena is extremely loud and you probably won’t hear your cell phone, so if you lose them, you’ll have a hard time finding them again.
  • Whatever you do …. DON’T drop your glass! Again with the heckling…
  • If you don’t LOVE the sample that is in your glass, or if you just don’t feel like finishing it, Pour It Out! That’s what the buckets are for, and no one will take offense. Leave room in your belly for something you might appreciate more!
[/unordered_list] [box type=”note”]Respect Last Call; don’t ask for a beer after last call. They cannot pour it for you, and you’ll just make them feel bad.[/box]

Pace yourself. There are a lot of beers there but you don’t have to drink them all on the first day. Unless of course you’re only going to one session and then you should have a stretcher waiting for you at the end. —@BeachBumChris

The Fun Just Doesn’t Stop

Just in case you missed your chance to get a ticket or just didn’t get enough beer at the festival there are plenty of events happening around GABF to keep your tummy’s happy. Stephen gave us the head’s up on some side events you probably won’t want to miss:

Falling Rock every night obvi!… but for sure Saturday night after 7PM for Dr. Bill’s Famous rare beer tasting. It’s EPIC. Avery and Euclid Hall’s Midnight Breakfast on Thursday night and of course Avery always throws a great party on Thursday afternoon.

Also, be sure to swing by the Great Divide Beer Lounge. They will have live music and food trucks parked right outside. Find all the details on their Tumblr post.

You can find more information about events going on around GABF on Tom Wilmes Daily Camera article here.

Closing advice from Angela

And my final suggestion for the new GABF’r, BE SURE TO GET A TICKET FOR NEXT YEAR! See you in the Crowd! Prosit!

Have more tips for GABFers?! Let us know in the comments below!


Author Maria

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